Literature’s child
John Siddique believes literature is the glue that unites humanity. He does not believe in being a poet of half-truths, as he talks about his poetic journey
Nonika Singh

Photo: S. ChandanWhatever else British poet John Siddique may be, one thing he certainly not is pretentious. Nor presumptuous for that matter. Forthright and honest about his personal life, he minces no words while expressing his views either. So while he has no compunction in divulging details about the separation of his parents, Irish mother and an Indian father, he is equally candid on how racism is very much alive and kicking in his country of birth the UK.

Indeed, he has faced disparaging remarks too. Often he has been called half-British, half-Indian to which his verbal repartee has always been: "I am fully myself."

Why his much-acclaimed book Full Blood too is a reaction to being dubbed half this or that. The book that has taken 15 years in the making "for it takes effort to write simply" is about death and mortality of life. And more importantly about passion (yes sex too), the need to live life full-throttle for all we have is this moment, "Nothing to give but this moment, this moment."

As he writes "Night is long and life is short, soak in moonlight", he understands that the body is the tool to reach out to the soul, hence the need to satiate five senses. Only this satiation, he asserts, is not to be confused with crass materialism or greedy acquisitiveness that is acquiring hideous dimensions the world over.

In this world where material wealth is owned by a few he raises the voice of the voiceless. And yet does not represent anybody in particular. To those who think books can’t change people, he cites his own example. The absence of a father figure and a difficult mother could have plunged him into darkness. But he saw light in the books and calls himself "literature’s child". As he goes around conducting workshops he doesn’t know whether you can get people interested in literature. But he is available to all those who are interested in it. Be it the prisoners in the jail or young students, he kindles the curiosity of workshop participants. Besides he has written commissioned pieces for Canterbury Festival, BBC Radio, Arts Council of England, Blackpool Council, York Minster, Irwell Sculpture Trail, The Lowry and many others.

"The problem with the literary scene today", he says "is that those who walk outside the convention are shunned by the mainstream media who would rather straightjacket you into pigeonholes." So though his latest book was at one point even outselling the works of the Noble Laureate on Amazon.com, the press blatantly ignored his presence. The literary world, however, more than acknowledges him and his four books have received raving reviews such as "each word is to be savoured like wine", "brimming with verve depth and pathos."

Besides books of poetry Full Blood, Recital – An Almanac, Poems From A Northern Soul, and The Prize, he has also co-authored Four Fathers, in which he has told tales in a story-cum- memoir form. For him, poetry too is all about telling stories. Much of his poetry is narrative. There are portraitures, a requiem for love as well a lament for lost things, like say dying bees. He asserts, "Poets today confuse the personal with the universal. Much of what is being written seems to be a cry to grab attention. Good literature is not about raving and ranting about the self albeit speaking directly to the reader as if you have written just for him or her."

The moot point in all writing according to him is that besides the five questions: What, where, when, why and how one needs to ask ‘what if’? As he continually raises the last query, he dismisses the suggestion that his poetry is abstract. About real love, real people it’s robust and full-bloodied. In Chandigarh, for a private visit he writes about the people living in slums of Mauli Jagran. But slums as depicted in British films has his blood curdling. Literature, he feels is the cementing glue holding people together, "Let my country see itself, may its people be visible to each other," not to drive them apart. Through love and passion, he arrives at humanity. In search of a place for silence, he throws a pointer, "Imagine thirst without knowing water`85. Imagine love without love."